On the first day of vacation Bible school at Esmirna Mennonite Church in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, 70 children trickled in, as many more watched shyly from outside the church door. The following day, about 100 attended, and even more the day after that. On Friday, 210 children squeezed into the tiny church to learn about Jesus.
Gloria Showalter, a participant in Mennonite Mission Network’s international service program for young adults, called Radical Journey, assisted with the Bible school and said that as the week went on, the children who were once afraid gathered up the courage to go in.
“I think they thought Bible school was a cool thing to do,” she said.
For the last 14 years, Iglesia Evangelica Menonita Boliviana (Evangelical Mennonite Church of Bolivia) has hosted a week of vacation Bible school in December and January for the children who live in Santa Cruz neighborhoods and outlying villages where Mennonite churches are located.
While some of the participants attend church regularly, for many of the children who find their way inside, it may be the first time they’ve heard about Jesus.
Margrit Kipfer Barrón, a Mission Network worker who has been in Bolivia since 1993 in partnership with the Swiss Mission, designs Bible story skits, activities, crafts and games to illustrate what it means to be a follower of Christ. One day at the Esmirna church, she handed out dried fish and crackers to all of the children who were eagerly awaiting their share. At the end, there was still some food left over—a visual representation of the feeding of the 5,000, a miraculous event recounted in John 6 in which Jesus fed a mountainside full of people from just a few loaves and fishes.
Showalter, who works at the Samuelito Day Care of the Bolivia Mennonite Church, a partner of Mennonite Mission Network, believes that examples like this provide the children with a hint of who Jesus is.
“I hope the kids got a glimpse of God, a glimpse of somebody they might want to serve,” Showalter said. “If just one kid got a picture of who God is, and maybe at some point they decide, ‘I want to follow Jesus,’ for me, the whole thing is worth it.”
The Bible school program is different at each location, depending on the demographics of the neighborhood. Kipfer Barrón said that in the neighborhood where the Príncipe de Paz church is located—a more well-to-do area where there are few children on the streets—it is harder to get neighborhood children involved. It’s easier at the Esmirna church, however, where children spend much of their time roaming the neighborhood.
At all seven locations combined, the Bible school reached nearly 700 children. Some of the Bolivian teachers and helpers were youth and young adults who had participated in the Bolivia Mennonite Church’s Sirviendo a Cristo (Serving Christ) training that prepares Bolivian youth for involvement in mission. Two teenagers helped with Bible school for four weeks in four different locations.
Kipfer Barrón believes the Bible school has made an impact in children’s lives.
She tells the story of a ninth-grader named Edwin, who has attended Bible school for the last few years. When he first came to Bible school, he was shy. Both he and his younger brother had dropped out of school in elementary school. His brother turned to the streets, sometimes spending his nights getting drunk. After attending Bible school, Edwin re-enrolled in school, and has even begun attending the Sirviendo a Cristo training so he can be a Bible school teacher.
There is also Tatiana, who was a Bible school participant years ago, but left the church and had a child. Kipfer Barrón lost track of her until last year, when Tatiana returned to the church. She has been an active member ever since.
“At the time that she participated in Bible school, it seemed it bore no fruit,” Kipfer Barrón said. “But many years later, we have been able to see how God has been working in her heart.”
Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, leads, mobilizes and equips the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ in a broken world. Media may contact Andrew Clouse at firstname.lastname@example.org, (574) 523-3024 or (866) 866-2872 ext. 23024.